Father of the fatherless and protector of widows, is God in his holy habitation.
Psalm 68:5, ESV
Seated on the floor cushions in my apartment in western Afghanistan, I poured the tea as Fereshta, a young woman I had met only the day before, poured out her heart.
“At sixteen, I married the man my father chose, but only a month later, before I could join him and his family in the UK, he died. My in-laws would never say more than that. I knew they were hiding something so [I] kept calling until finally, they told me he committed suicide.”
I gasped, wondering why. She noticed my puzzlement.
“He had to support his whole family…and he loved another woman.”
Had he fallen in love with a woman promised to another? Had he, like so many Afghan women, been forced to marry someone his parents chose for him instead? Had the weight of supporting his whole family crushed him?
Barely a bride, Fereshta became a widow. Now, no longer her father’s financial responsibility, she was forced to pay him rent. She sold her gold jewelry -her dowry gifts -to do it. She could have used the money in her late husband’s UK bank account which, by law, she was entitled to; however, she would have to collect it in person which requires a passport. Unfortunately, she needed a marriage certificate to secure the passport, but her in-laws refused to mail it to her from the UK. She was stuck.
Fereshta’s father allowed her to return to her job teaching English at a local NGO because her supervisor was his friend. But, he confiscated her earnings!
Fereshta was sure she could land a better job, perhaps even the United Nations; but, he wouldn’t allow it. Who would keep an eye on her there? My heart broke. Fereshta was forced labor–a slave.
“I could study public policy through a U.S. program; but, to apply, I need a high school diploma and a good TOEFL score,” she continued.
With her English proficiency, the TOEFL would be a breeze, and she only lacked one year of school to earn her diploma. Still, her father refused because he believed it was shameful for married women to go to school. My stomach turned.
Fereshta locked eyes with me. “I have considered ending my life.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Oh God, how can I help her? I feared, without help, her father would drive her into an early grave like so many Afghan women before her who had taken their own lives. I also knew my involvement, a foreign woman, would only anger and shame him. At a loss for what else to do, I appealed to the One who changes the hearts of kings as if they were streams of water in His hands (Proverbs 21:1). God, please don’t let Fereshta’s life be snuffed out. Did you not force Pharaoh to let your people go? Do you not still turn hearts of stone back to flesh?
Then, I asked Fereshta if I could pray for her in the name of Isa Masih (Jesus).
She nodded. “I have been praying to Allah about this.”
As a Muslim, she knew Isa Masih as a miracle-worker, a healer, and a prophet. I also knew Him as the Word-made-flesh, the One through whom the universe was formed, the One who conquered death itself.
Holding Fereshta’s hand, I thanked God for hearing us, for seeing her suffering, and loving her. Then, I asked for a miracle, perhaps to save her life. “Please soften Fereshta’s father’s heart so he will allow her to go to school.” When I closed my prayer in the powerful name of Jesus, she seemed touched and thanked me; but the disappointment in her eyes told me she was hoping for more. She took her leave to get home before dark.
An hour later, she called.
“I asked my father again for permission to complete my senior year. This time, he said yes!”
I could hardly believe my ears. “That’s wonderful news!”
“Your God must really love you!” she said.
“He really loves YOU!” I countered, my heart swelling with joy and wonder. When we hung up, I dissolved into tears. God, you truly are the Defender of orphans and widows. There is nothing too hard for You.
From one clay-footed woman’s prayer, God had forged the key to open the door to another woman’s prison. I marveled. By moving her father to say ‘yes’, God had restored Fereshta’s hope and authenticated Himself to her. How was this possible? God’s answer exposed the smallness of my faith and, at the same time, enlarged it.
When God poured out his lovingkindness on Fereshta, I found myself standing in its flow. She had not escaped His notice, and neither had I. The same God who counted a widow’s mite, a treasure and a young boy’s lunch sufficient to feed a multitude, had counted a last-resort prayer enough to move the mountain before us. Our faith only has to move our God who calls us His children, whose ear is always inclined to us, and who loves orphans and widows. He uses our faith to move mountains for us. Perhaps that’s why faith, the size of a mustard seed, is all it takes.